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Low carb diets can help people living with type 2 diabetes achieve remission and eventually stop taking medication. Martin DM/Getty Images
  • A new study has found that a low carbohydrate diet can help people achieve remission from type 2 diabetes.
  • Experts say this is a positive development in type 2 diabetes management and puts control back into the patient’s hands.
  • While a low carb diet can be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes, nutritionists warn against making drastic changes to your eating habits before speaking with a healthcare professional.

If you live with type 2 diabetes, you know there are certain steps you must take to effectively manage the condition.

You’re likely aware that, alongside medication, one of the most important ways to manage type 2 diabetes is through your diet. Specifically, you need to eat or limit certain foods to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level.

Now, a new study has found that diet may play an even more important role in type 2 diabetes management than previously thought.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, found that a low-carbohydrate diet was effective in achieving glycaemic control in people living with type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, more than half of the participants who adopted a low carb diet achieved type 2 diabetes remission and were able to eventually stop taking medication.

The study was conducted in Norwood Surgery in the UK, using 9800 participants who were routinely offered advice on low carbohydrate diets and weight loss between 2013 and 2021. Of the participants, 39% went on a low-carbohydrate diet.

After an average of 33 months, participants’ weight fell by an average of 10kg, and remission was achieved by 51% of the cohort.

The patients’ LDL cholesterol and blood pressure also decreased.

As well as representing “an important window of opportunity for achieving drug-free remission of diabetes,” the study authors also said the results gave “hope to those with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes who may not achieve remission.”

This group had the greatest improvements in diabetic control.

It’s promising news for people living with type 2 diabetes and could act as a catalyst for change, improving the way the condition is managed and treated.

“This latest research is exciting as it was conducted in a real GP practice over many years,” says Aliza Marogy, a registered nutritionist and founder of Inessa supplements. “This gives an insight into what needs to be done to improve the nutritional program further and make it available in other medical settings.”

Marogy says the study highlights the importance of early intervention, noting that for patients who had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes for less than a year, the low carb diet helped 77% of participants achieve full remission, compared to a 20% success rate for those who had a diagnosis of 15 years or more.

Natalie Louise Burrows, a registered nutritionist and founder of Integral Wellness, a nutrition and health clinic specializing in type 2 diabetes, sees this study as a very positive development when it comes to how type 2 diabetes is treated.

“These findings are in line with what I see working as a type 2 diabetes nutrition specialist in my clinic,” Burrows says. “It demonstrates how proactive support and empathetic guidance from [healthcare providers] can help clients to put type 2 diabetes into remission; rather than solely thinking about it as a diagnosis that needs medicating.”

“The reduction in the volume of sugar consumed through food enables the body to utilize what is stored in fat cells for energy. It also supports cells to restore their sensitivity to insulin as does physical activity,” Burrows explains.

According to Marogy, this and similar studies share a similar theme: weight loss.

“In both calorie-restricted studies and this low carb one, the successful reversal of disease appears to come down to weight loss, which in turn has an impact on glycaemic control in diabetics and other commonly associated symptoms such as elevated cholesterol and hypertension,” she explains.

Marogy says the results of this and similar studies are transformational.

“There’s clear potential for these dietary interventions to actually reverse type 2 diabetes,” she notes.

According to Burrows, this development puts the patient back in control.

“This study continues to confirm that type 2 diabetes is not the progressive condition medicine used to think it was. Dietary and lifestyle choices can help mitigate the diagnosis and support remission and the absence of medication,” she points out.

Burrows added that even if remission isn’t achieved, glycaemic control and other health outcomes are improved for the patient.

“It puts you back in control of your own health and empowers you with the opportunity to make changes which impact both your condition and quality of life,” she says.

If you’re thinking of reducing your carb intake, Marogy says you should talk with a healthcare professional before making any dramatic changes to your diet.

“In this study, the dietary advice sheet that was shared with patients recommended completely cutting foods containing sugar. Cakes, biscuits, chocolates, and sweets all had to go, but small amounts of sugar naturally present in berries, apples, and pears were permitted,” Marogy notes.

As a start, she recommends gradually reducing higher-carb grains and replacing them with more substantial portions of lean protein like oily fish, eggs, and chicken. She also suggests adding lots of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, mushrooms, and French beans to your plate.

Burrows agrees that making drastic changes is unlikely to lead to long-term results. Instead, she advises taking a look at the current makeup of your diet.

“Ask yourself questions like, ‘Am I relying heavily on the likes of bread, pasta, and rice in my meals? Is there an opportunity to reduce the frequency of these foods, or swap them out for vegetables instead?” she suggests.

After you’ve completed a review of your current eating habits, Burrows recommends choosing a few meals a week and making adjustments to them.

“Once you’ve made a change and feel good about achieving it, the next step of change doesn’t feel so daunting, and you have the belief that you can achieve that one too,” she encourages.